The saddest thing I've ever seen in the world of film criticism took place in a hotel hallway.
It was at a junket. If you've never been to a press junket for a movie -- first of all, congratulations. They're typically held in an expensive hotel, where a studio buys out an entire floor and sticks the stars and creators of the film they're selling into different rooms, each with its own black backdrop and poster. The atmosphere is glamour mixed with misery: everyone and everything is beautiful, there's free food and drinks, but everywhere you look you see unhappy faces: publicists desperately trying to keep their schedules in order; journalists angling for more access than they've been offered; stars exhausted by a gauntlet of thirty interviews in two hours, all with the same five questions. TV hosts hop from one room to the next collecting interviews, typically for no longer than four minutes at a time. Junkets can run quickly, but because of the number of moving parts, they can also logjam. That's how you wind up sitting in a hotel hallway for an hour waiting to interview Ralph Fiennes.
At that particular, Fiennes-centric junket, waiting in that particular hallway, I watched as a publicist walked up to each journalist waiting for interviews to ask them for a pull quote -- what they thought of the movie in soundbyte form, ready to be slapped on a poster or TV ad. The publicist came to me, and I immediately declined, but the woman seated next to me was more than happy to oblige. So happy, in fact, that she told the publicist that she didn't have anything to say -- they could attribute whatever quote they liked to her and she'd go along with it. "Okay great!" the publicist replied, "How about 'A glorious achievement destined for Oscars!'?" (I'm paraphrasing, slightly.) "Yeah, sure -- whatever you need," the host replied (here I'm quoting exactly).
As consumers, we tend to assume these pull quotes are actual excerpts from real movie reviews -- and often they are. As evidenced by that story, though, that is not always the case. Sometimes they're solicited directly from writers and TV hosts -- or given to the writers and TV hosts by the studio. And now there seems to be a new method to collect them as well.
Earlier this week, Indiewire's Eric Kohn received an email with the subject line "LOOKING FOR QUOTES!!" Here is how the email began, vebatim:
From: <NAME REDACTED>
Date: Wed, Nov 14, 2012 at 5:40 PM
Subject: LOOKING FOR QUOTES!!
Its quote time again! Looking to gain quotes on the below 2 films ASAP. Please let me know if you are interested in viewing a screener and producing quotes. These quotes will be used for promotional materials and packaging of the DVD/BD.
The email then went on to list the two films, with a brief plot summary for each. Although this is the first time Eric or I has ever seen something like this -- emailing people asking for quotes -- the email itself specifically says it's "quote time again," so this is clearly a regular practice, at least for this particular publicist.
I'm not looking to shame the person who sent out the email, but merely to warn readers, as I do in my Weird Pull Quote Theater Column, to always take quotes with a grain of salt and handful of skepticism. One of the films that was "looking" for quotes currently has a D+ average on our Criticwire Network -- they're soliciting quotes, I imagine, because the actual critics who reviewed it mostly disliked it. Yet another reason why there's no replacement for a real movie review.